Teenager loses purity ring legal battle


Teenager Lydia Playfoot today lost her High Court challenge over a ban preventing her from wearing a Christian “purity ring“.

Sixteen-year-old Lydia Playfoot claimed the ban at the Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, was an “unlawful interference” with her right to express her Christian faith.

In a statement she said she was “very disappointed” by the decision by deputy High Court judge Michael Supperstone QC.

Lydia said: “I am very disappointed by the decision this morning by the High Court not to allow me to wear my purity ring to school as an expression of my Christian faith not to have sex outside of marriage.”

She said she believed the ruling “will mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith”.

She added: “Over two years ago, I was concerned at the number of teenagers who were catching sexually transmitted diseases, getting pregnant and/or having abortions.

“The Government’s sex education programme is not working, and the pressure on young people to ‘give in’ to sex continues to increase. This is often because of the media’s focus on sex and the expectations of others.”

Lydia is one of a group of Christians at the Millais School who wore the ring engraved with a Biblical verse as a sign of their belief in abstinence from sex until marriage.

In court her lawyers claimed that her secondary school, which allows Muslims and Sikh students to wear headscarfs and religious bracelets, breached her human rights by preventing her from wearing the ring.

The school denied her claims, arguing that the purity ring is not an integral part of the Christian faith and contravenes its uniform policy.

At a recent hearing at the High Court in London, human rights barrister Paul Diamond, appearing for Lydia, argued that the secular school authorities had no right to set themselves up as arbiters of faith and “cannot rule on religious truth”.

He argued that the school authorities were violating Lydia’s right to ” freedom of thought, conscience and religion” under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The rings stem from the “Silver Ring Thing” (SRT) movement which started in the US.

SRT rings are worn by Christian teenagers to symbolise a pledge not to have sex before marriage and have led to an impassioned debate over religious expression and sex education.

Mr Diamond told the court that the case raised a number of issues relating to Lydia’s fundamental right to “manifest her religion by the wearing of the Silver Ring Thing”.

He argued that secular authorities, including school authorities, “lack capacity to rule on the correct manifestation of religious belief”.

He said a question the judge would have to answer was: “What are the religious rights of schoolchildren in the school context?”

He argued that the rights guaranteed under human rights law included the freedom to manifest religious belief “in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.

Mr Diamond, who also represented Nadia Eweida in the British Airways ” cross” case, argued: “Secular authorities cannot rule on religious truth.”

He said no secular inquiry – “be it by the courts, be it by the school board governors, or be it by British Airways” – could decide on what were appropriate manifestations of belief.

He said: “That is the forbidden inquiry. Secular authorities and institutions cannot be arbiters of religious faith.”

Their duty was to remain “neutral and impartial in this very sensitive field”.

In her statement, Lydia said: “As a Christian I do not agree with sex before marriage.

“I believe I have a right not only to state my Christian views on sex, but also to demonstrate my Christian faith and commitment to God and my future husband not to have sex before marriage, through the wearing of a purity ring.

“I, along with 11 other Christian girls at Millais School, decided before God that we would make a commitment not to have sex before marriage, and as a sign of that commitment, to wear a simple silver ring from the ‘Silver Ring Thing’ movement.”

She said: “The wearing of the ring was, to me, a demonstration of my Christian faith and values, which are based on the Bible – which clearly teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong and therefore not God’s best for us.

“Despite the fact that Muslim girls at our school wear headscarves, and Sikhs wear Kara bangles, the school refused to allow me to manifest my belief through the wearing of a ring.

“The school governors originally said it was for health and safety reasons that purity rings were banned from school, but have offered no evidence to support the view that wearing a ring could physically harm another pupil or staff member.

“I still believe the decision by the governors of the school goes against the Article 9 rights to Freedom of Religion and my right to express my faith in word or deed, in a democratic, Christian-based country.”

She added: “I shall be consulting my legal team to consider whether to appeal.”

It was a matter of deep regret to her that “I could not persuade the court to consider upholding the religious liberty of Christian people in the United Kingdom”.

The teenager concluded: “As a Christian though, I live for another Kingdom, and serve another King, Jesus Christ, and therefore I shall continue to live and speak for what is right and true.”


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John Aston and Cathy Gordon, Independent, July 16, 2007, http://news.independent.co.u

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 16, 2007.
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